Cultural Playing Field

Working bilingually in Wales by Robin Simpson
February 27, 2009, 3:25 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Senedd in Cardiff – the spectacular home of the Welsh Assembly – to attend the VAW Welsh Language Policy Review event. Representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies heard presentations from the Welsh Language Board, Estyn Law (an organisation funded by the Welsh Assembly to support voluntary organisations in developing bilingual working), the Welsh Language Officer from the Wales Millennium Centre and Alun Ffred Jones, the Minister for Heritage. The Minister started by saying “this is an interesting and exciting period for the Welsh language and for Wales”. The Wales Assembly Government wants to create a bilingual Wales: “a Wales where the Welsh and English languages can coexist and people can choose which language to use in their everyday lives”. He told the voluntary arts umbrella bodies: “you have a special opportunity to contribute to the task of making the Welsh language an essential part of Welsh identity” and urged them to consider how the Welsh language could be integrated into their activities for the benefit of all. Alun Ffred Jones referred to the new powers being requested by the Wales Assembly Government (announced at the beginning of February) which would give the Assembly the right to legislate on the Welsh Language. He finished by saying: “The Welsh language is something for all of us, not just those who speak Welsh. We should all be able to take ownership of it.”

Throughout the event there was a strong emphasis on understanding the needs of Welsh speakers and investigating what aspects of bilingual working should be prioritised – particularly in situations where resources are limited. There was a clear message that effective bilingual working does not need to involve translation of every piece of print material you produce and that, in many cases, the recruitment of more Welsh speaking volunteers to provide opportunities for dialogue in the Welsh language is more important than translation services. It was a really interesting day and great to meet so many umbrella bodies. Congratulations to Jacquy, Sioned and Gwenan for a very successful event.

Robin Simpson.

NCVO Annual Conference 2009 by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2009, 11:19 am
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On Wednesday I was at The Brewery in the City of London to attend the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. The NCVO conference is always a really enjoyable, thought-provoking day and this year was no exception. The keynote speaker in the morning was Vince Cable, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party and Shadow Chancellor. He started by suggesting there was a danger for the voluntary and community sector of “drowning in a bath of warm words” as politicians of all persuasions queued up to say nice things about the sector. He focussed on the effects of the recession on the sector, identifying a “scissors crisis” of diminishing income at the same time as rising needs. The situation was not, however, unremittingly negative: “in a time of crisis we may get a sense of solidarity with people becoming less selfish and looking more to their local community”. It is also important to remember that “for the vast majority of people, this crisis doesn’t affect them: for many it will pass largely unnoticed.” Dr Cable finished by saying that, with the voluntary and community sector now representing 10% of UK GDP, it could be a key player while the private sector is paralysed.


I then attended a breakout session on ‘futures for civil society’, led by Geoff Mulgan of the Young Foundation who is Chair of the Carnegie Enquiry into the Future of Civil Society. We looked in detail at the short term challenges for civil society and the long term questions coming out the other side of the recession. We worked in small groups to identify particular challenges for civil society and actions to address them. A common theme emerged around the economic crisis providing an opportunity for civil society to pull together to realise its collective potential. But we also discussed the difficulty of developing ‘civil society’ as a collective entity whilst preserving the unique strength and resilience which stems from its composition of a multitude of small, diverse, independent organisations and individuals.


In the afternoon I took part in an excellent session on the future of ‘membership’ led by Matthew Taylor of the RSA. Through presentations from Karl Wilding, Head of Research at NCVO, and Alex Hunt of the National Trust, and a lively group discussion, we looked at changing notions of ‘membership’ and the effects of technology, consumerism and demographics on membership organisations. Among many interesting observations, the one idea that has really stuck in my mind is the “inverse activist law” but I’m afraid Chatham House Rules prevent me from saying any more! Matthew Taylor concluded that:

·        membership organisations are not competing with each other

·        there is a need for a new generation of civic collaborative community organisations

·        many of us are holding on to outdated membership structures

This session marked the launch of a project looking at membership issues which is being undertaken by the NCVO Third Sector Foresight Team with the RSA: I look forward to following their progress.


In his annual ‘state of the sector’ address, NCVO Chief Executive, Stuart Etherington, paid tribute to the Government Ministers and officials who had worked hard to deliver the recession action plan for the third sector. He said we were now seeing the limitations of the market and the state: in tougher times ahead conventional solutions will not always work. “We need to develop a new approach driven by the values and methods that civil society embodies.” Stuart launched NCVO’s new Civil Society Framework for Action which seeks long term sources of funding, support for social cohesion, no restriction of the campaigning role of the sector, support for volunteering and collective action on climate change. He talked about the new European Civil Society network and called on the UK Government to create a Department for Civil Society with its own Secretary of State, its own budget and its own powers. Stuart finished by saying “it is an active civil society that makes our country the wonderful place it is.” Baroness Jill Pitkeathly, Chair of the Office of the Third Sector Advisory Body, replied to Stuart Etherington’s speech, emphasising that politicians and policy makers are people too and saying that positive and supportive messages will be listened to and remembered. The final keynote speaker was Benjamin Barber, an American political commentator and former advisor to President Clinton. In a rousing speech he suggested that democracy depends on a healthy civil society and that civil society will be essential to “the restoration of trust on which the future of democracy around the world will depend”.


The NCVO conference closed with a drinks reception hosted by The Guardian, at which the Minister for the Third Sector, Kevin Brennan, praised the work NCVO had done in setting up the third sector recession summit which had led to the Government’s recession action plan for the sector.

Robin Simpson. 

Overseeing the Cultural Olympiad by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2009, 11:18 am
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On Monday I was at Arts Council England’s London office to meet Leonie Sakey, ACE’s Vision 2012 Project Manager. Since I last saw Leonie she has been joined by a team of staff to oversee ACE’s involvement in the Cultural Olympiad. I outlined the progress we have been making in relation to the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, the Olympics Volunteering Legacy Programme, our Legacy Trust project in Scotland, the planned ‘Up for Arts’ project in Liverpool with the Media Trust and BBC Radio Merseyside, the Office of the Third Sector participation portal and a further ‘Once in a Lifetime’ briefing for voluntary arts groups. Leonie thought the work we were doing was great and it would make a lot of sense to develop a Voluntary Arts Olympics Officer post. She also updated me on the first Inspire Mark projects, ACE’s ‘Artists Taking the Lead’ project, and the changes to the ‘hosting’ arrangements for the LOCOG regional Creative Programmers following the demise of the Regional Cultural Consortia in England (which will see most of the Creative Programmers being hosted by ACE). It was encouraging to see how much is now going on in relation to the Cultural Olympiad – making it all the more important to ensure the voluntary arts are properly represented.

Robin Simpson.

Working with infrastructure organisations by Robin Simpson
February 13, 2009, 3:52 pm
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Today I have been at NCVO for the latest in a series of meetings about how NCVO works with other infrastructure organisations. This is proving to be a really interesting process, opening up a complex debate about the nature and needs of infrastructure bodies. I fear we may be finding more questions than answers but it’s wonderful to see NCVO taking the time and care to think through these issues.

Robin Simpson.

Arts Council England’s national participation campaign by Robin Simpson
February 13, 2009, 3:51 pm
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On Thursday afternoon Reemer and I met Clara Goldsmith, the new head of Arts Council England’s national arts participation campaign. The campaign will be launched in Spring 2010 and is likely to involve a range of broadcast and commercial partners. We stressed the need to involve the voluntary arts sector from the start to ensure that those people encouraged to start participating in the arts are given routes to their local voluntary arts groups to ensure sustainable opportunities to continue their participation. We also discussed linking the ACE campaign website to the OTS participation portal and the proposed DIUS portal for informal adult learning.

Robin Simpson.

Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme steering group by Robin Simpson
February 13, 2009, 3:49 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Arts Council England national office for a meeting of the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme steering group. (This is the name we have now agreed for the ACE/DCMS action plan responding to the conclusions of the ‘Our Creative Talent’ research.) We looked at proposals for a more coherent and consistent approach to the amateur arts across ACE’s regional offices which were to be presented to the ACE Executive Board meeting later on Thursday. We also discussed proposals on voluntary arts regional networking and capacity-building sector which we had developed at the facilitated session held at the VAE office in Newcastle last week. The steering group supported our proposals and we agreed to start a business planning process to clarify what resources would be required to implement the various elements of regional networking and capacity-building – and how these might be funded.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting Kevin Brennan, Minister for the Third Sector by Robin Simpson
February 13, 2009, 3:48 pm
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On Wednesday Reemer and I went through extensive security to enter the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall (right next to Downing Street) where we met Kevin Brennan, Minister for the Third Sector. The Minister was extremely interested to hear about the voluntary arts sector – being a voluntary artist himself, as a member of the parliamentary rock group ‘MP4’. He appreciated the need to ensure the arts is seen as a major part of the wider voluntary sector and was keen to do whatever he could to help us influence ‘mainstream’ voluntary sector support and other Government departments. He urged us to encourage local voluntary arts groups to apply to the Government’s new Grassroots Grants scheme and emphasised that the planned OTS online participation portal should provide a major opportunity for the voluntary arts. It was a very positive and encouraging first meeting.

Robin Simpson.